Last updated on April 8th, 2019 at 10:48 am
A momentous dream
In the mid-’70s, while I was in undergraduate school at the University of Cincinnati, I had the second “realer-than-waking-life” dream of my two and a half decades spent on Earth. By then, unlike when I had the first such dream in early ’71, I at least already knew that such a thing can happen!
Here’s the dream:
I’m with a number of companions. They’re gathered around me in a circle, initiating me into some kind of Brotherhood. My professor Michael, whose recent classes, “Eastern Thought and American Literature” and “A Study of Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols” have been real lifesavers, seems to be the leader of the group. In the dream, unlike in waking life, Michael has a short beard similar to that of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. Possibly, this is a reference to my earlier days as a political radical.
Michael looks me straight in the eye, while at the same time giving me an injection in the arm. As he does this, he says, “In your case, we had to use drugs.”
This cryptic sentence may be a suggestion about my several psychedelic trips. A few years before, trying to grab the brass ring of wholeness in eight such sessions, I’d ended up destroying my personality for quite a while. Was “Michael” saying that all this was necessary to break my ego’s resistance to the spiritual unfolding I was destined for?
“The Brotherhood,” I’m given to know in the dream, consists of beings from all walks of life. They might be industrial workers, cowboys, singers, doctors, lawyers, housewives. Members are indiscernible from everyone else in the world. The only difference is that they live for everyone, not just for themselves.
A bit of synchronicity
A day or two after this profound experience, I happen to walk into the office of my other favourite professor, Tom. Tom sports a full beard and wears thick, black-rimmed glasses. He’s a mentor to many graduate and undergraduate students. A professor of psychology, he also practices calligraphy and Zen meditation. His office is a refuge of beauty and solace that he keeps open 24 hours a day for anyone who might want or need such a sanctuary. Poetry and words of Sages, on large sheets of rice paper in Tom’s flowing script, adorn the walls, along with paintings by students and friends. The floor is lined with cushions. A large case of books on creativity and spirituality leans against one wall. A coffeepot and tea kettle, along with a tray of mugs and condiments, sit at one end of the room. On the back of the door, a large poster assures anyone about to leave, in bold calligraphy, “Nothing that comes from the deep soul is bad or can be bad,” a quote attributed to D.H. Lawrence, and beside the doorknob is a smaller note: “Come when you can, leave when you must.”
As I enter the office on this occasion, Tom is leaning over his table, making a large sign. Walking to where I can see it, I glance at the heading and feel a chill as the first two words come into view: The Brotherhood.
Moving closer, I read the whole message Tom is just completing:
The Brotherhood is powerful. It has many members. They are of all places and of all times. The members do not die. One is member to the degree that he can be member, no more, no less. And that part of him that is of the Brotherhood does not die. The work of the Brotherhood does not deal with surface events. Institutions on the world surface can rise and become powerful and they can destroy each other. Statesmen can put patch upon patch to make things continue to stand still. No matter what may happen on the surface, the Brotherhood goes steadily on. It is the evolution of man. Let the surface destroy itself, the Brotherhood will start it again. For in all cases, no matter how strong the surface institutions become, no matter what laws may be laid down, what patches may be made, all change that is real is due to the Brotherhood.
– Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
A lasting impression
Robert Henri, I learned later, was a painter and art teacher in the early 20th century. He taught at the Art Students League of New York, which remains a place of creative ferment to the present day. I soon acquired The Art Spirit, and it helped me with my own painting. But the stunning synchronicity of my dream and its power, coupled with my entrance into Tom’s office on that particular day—those events have resonated down through the 40 years that have elapsed.
Author’s Note: The illustration at the top of this article is actually a painting of another dream of initiation by a Brotherhood, from some fifteen years after the one with which this article begins. In this later dream, the initiation ordeal consists of having the flesh on my right hand, between the thumb and index finger, cut by a sharp knife. My sense is that this symbolizes the temporary loss of the use of the “practical” right hand, in order to allow a deeper connection with the intuitive faculty to develop. And indeed, that dream did come at a time when my life was “drowned in a well of Intuition” in the form of paint, which saved my life [see “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”]. The sort of ritual atmosphere of that dream and the one from 1976 that is narrated in this article are somewhat similar. The vibrant colours help to convey the power of the dream, as well. For these reasons, we felt it was appropriate to use this painting as the illustration for this piece.